The Journey: When To Let Go

by Brayden Olafson on October 5, 2019


Prior to the NHL kicking off its 102nd regular season on Tuesday, we witnessed what many pundits would consider to be the most magnetic waiver list in years. Although I would’ve considered the list to be attractive, I struggle to anoint it so, given the lack of drama and movement that followed. Nonetheless, the list included several players who would have almost certainly been claimed in years past, as well as at almost any other time of the year.

Waivers always become a hot topic at this time of year with teams finalizing their rosters. However, that factor also brings about a higher level of security that allows teams to feel more comfortable waiving players. Often, organizations can swallow the pill of waiving a former top-prospect with the confidence that there 30 other teams who find themselves in a similar position and would be hard-pressed to make the claim, as often it would force them to waive a different player from their roster. 

At 12:00 pm on September 29 and again on the 30th, the following players names, among others, were circulated to 31 NHL front offices like a 16 oz porterhouse grilled to perfection…

Christian Djoos, Washington Capitals

Sven Baertschi, Vancouver Canucks

Nikolay Goldobin, Vancouver Canucks

Nicolas Petan, Toronto Maple Leafs

Luke Schenn, Tampa Bay Lightning

Thomas Hickey, New York Islanders

Josh Ho-Sang, New York Islanders

Remi Elie, Buffalo Sabres

Curtis Lazar, Buffalo Sabres

Daniel Sprong, Anaheim Ducks

Charlie Lindgren, Montreal Canadiens

Despite the fact that only two of these players were claimed in the 24 hours that followed, each of the 20 teams who chose to waive at least one player that day had come to terms with the fact that they may lose him for nothing. With any commodity that’s a difficult decision, bringing players lives into the accord creates an even more complicated process. So how do they make that decision, or more importantly, how do you make that decision, and which players should you consider cutting ties with?

Because each fantasy league is unique, it’s important to first define your predicament, so that you can optimize your decision, Ask yourself a few questions… 

Do you NEED to drop/trade someone to create space for other graduating prospects? 

Do you simply want to optimize your roster by upgrading through the waiver wire? 

These decisions really come down to taking an objective approach. They often mean simply splitting hairs and the important thing to remember is that you likely have an emotional bias towards players you’ve drafted. Some things that you should consider is if and how well the players in question have performed at the NHL level. Has their projected arrival date changed since you drafted them?

I’ve come across these questions with friends and co-workers over the course of the last few weeks during casual watercooler discussion and friendly banter. I’d like to share a few of these instances because I’m certain they’re not the only ones who are dealing with these types of decisions. 

Case #1: Timothy Liljegren 

In this case, the owner of Liljegren had drafted him through an expansion draft process where he was unprotected by another owner in the league. I don’t believe he’s considering dropping the Leafs’ first-round draft pick, however his faith in the Swede’s future in the NHL seems to be dwindling, as I’m certain it has for others. His only legitimate option would be to dangle Liljegren as a trade chip, potentially recouping a draft pick and banking on the chances that it would get him further ahead on the curve. 

First and foremost, I don’t believe that Liljegren’s progress en route to the NHL should be compared to fellow Leafs’ blueline prospect Rasmus Sandin. The comparison certainly shouldn’t be viewed as a boom/bust litmus on Liljegren. Despite the fact that he’s been demoted to the Marlies, the fact remains that the Leaf’s will be faced with several cap related departures on their blueline next summer. He has battled valiantly to return from injuries over the last year and has been a respectable defender and playmaker in the AHL. If he doesn’t find his way back into a Leafs’ uniform by this summer, he almost certainly will be one year from now. I wouldn’t anticipate this owner recouping anything higher than a second-round pick for Liljegren in a trade, a position that would likely get him no closer to young NHL production than what he already has in Liljegren.

Verdict: Keep

Case #2: Alex Barre-Boulet vs. Emil Bemstrom

A co-worker of mine is in the midst of making some last-minute shuffles to optimize his prospect pool in a league that was inaugurated this summer. While his league completed the final few rounds of that draft (there was a several-hour pick clock in the draft) I mentioned to him that I was high on both of these players – the one he ended up selecting was Barre-Boulet. On the basis of both being in contention for an NHL job, I viewed their short-term projections as relatively comparable. With both players coming off of exceptional campaigns in different professional leagues, and each facing unique challenges in their respective organization.

Fast forward a month and we now see ABB back with the Syracuse Crunch where he dominated the AHL as a rookie last year, while Bemstrom remains with the Blue Jackets. In this case, we see that the challenge that Barre-Boulet was faced with (a deep and stacked Tampa Bay forward roster) overcame his ability, while in the case of Bemstrom’s challenge (a deep Columbus lineup and defensive focused coaching staff) the jury is still out. I believe that Barre Boulet is currently number-one on the Lightning’s list of potential recalls, while the Blue Jackets have chosen to give Bemstrom a shot right out of the gate. 

Verdict: Bemstrom > Barre-Boulet

Case #3: Jesper Bratt vs. Kailer Yamamoto vs. Emil Bemstrom vs. Filip Chytil

This predicament in in regards to the poll that fellow Dobber Prospects writer Joel Henderson hosted this week on Twitter. While I can’t comment as to the specifics of Joel’s dilemma, I love the dynamic of this decision. For me, it brought to light a couple of important factors when making a decision like this. 

The first is one that I’ve already mentioned – draft loyalty/bias. Personally, I’ve been high on Filip Chytil as a subject of my own fantasy hockey desires the last couple of years. I own him on multiple fantasy rosters and when taking a step back I have to accept that I’ve likely amplified my own interest in him by putting such a large amount of my faith in his future, and hoping for a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

The second is another type of bias that I think affects most of us – the concept of favoring the unknown and the anticipated. Unfortunately, I don’t have much of a background in psychology, but I have a strong feeling that there is a name for this type of bias, as well as some kind of scientific study… If you know of it, I’d love to hear… but I digress. This bias affects me when considering the future of Emil Bemstrom, and to a lesser extent, Kailer Yamamoto. The path that has led Bemstrom to being in this discussion is an exciting one. A path full of anticipation and intrigue that leaves me salivating for what MAY come. The same applies to Yamamoto in a slightly more distant memory. Taking the subjective stance on both, however, gives me pause.

Being absorbed and focused on the world of prospects can be a great thing, however, it’s important to be able to, again, take an objective stance on the reality of a decision. 

Eliminating each of these biases, I am left with what I would’ve in some contexts, considered a boring conclusion, and evidently, the same as the majority of Joel’s followers.
 


Jesper Bratt has been a reliable contributor at the NHL level since his rookie campaign in 2017-18. His familiarity might make it seem as if he’s a decade older than the others, however the reality is that Bratt is still only 21 years old. While his career high in points might not be the most salivating number, it’s more than any of the others can say for themselves and for that reason he’s my pick.

Verdict: Bratt > Chytil > Bemstrom > Yamamoto

I hope that some of these instances were relatable in a fantasy hockey sense, and that, if nothing else, they allow you to see how you might be looking through rose-colored glasses in some cases. Objectivity is at the root of any type of investigation and whether you use the eye test or rely on numbers, poisonous emotion often has a way of affecting our decisions, whether we like it or not. 

I’d love to hear about the predicaments that you’re facing with your prospects – feel free to start a discussion in the comments or find me on Twitter @olaf1393